Politicians are not creative creatures. They latch on to a few words and run them into the ground, using them to describe anything and everything, or just tacking them on to the end of their sentences even if they don’t fit, American leadership. These phrases help politicians fill a void otherwise occupied with concrete solutions to actual problems. Thought-terminating cliché = way better.
The problem is there are so many stupid catchphrases; choosing one is hard. Jasich (Jeb!™ and Kasich) is particularly fond of “tearing families apart”, whereas Sanders likes “the working men and women of this country who deserve more”.
For the worst political catchphrase ever, nothing competes with the self-righteous: “Because it’s the right thing to do” (according to whom? based on what evidence?) that was a staple in President Obama’s repertoire for years. The idea is no one wants to say, “I know that’s the right thing to do and I won’t do it.” But people never were sold that supporting Obama’s agenda = the right thing to do.
Someone apparently clued the president in, because he abruptly dropped the phrase and transitioned to “common-sense”. This phrase works for politicians of all stripes, who use it like a medieval club to beat down resistance. What isn’t “common-sense”? Right to own a gun? Check. Government efforts to take away said right to own gun? Check. Economics, immigration, Arab Spring? Check, Check, Check! The Institute for Common Sense in New Jersey? Oh, don’t worry. We’re getting to that!
The concept of “common-sense” is brilliant. It’s purely subjective, so it can be used with abandon and total immunity to fact-checking. And who doesn’t like common sense? No one, that’s who. It’s therefore used repetitively, like a meditation chant (“common-sense” is the new “om”!)
But what does it mean? What is the criteria to be common sense? How can opposing sides of an issue (gun rights, common core, etc) claim this term so relentlessly? Answer – like truthiness, common-sense means whatever you want it to.
Can you and I agree on “common-sense criminal sentencing reform”? Great! You think we agreed to common-sense 2-week probation for first-time, non-violent offenders. I tell the media you agree with me on common-sense mandatory life sentences for parking violations.
Let’s have a closer look at how politicians are employing this very useful term:
- President Barack Obama is a fan of what he calls “common-sense Gun Safety Reform”.
- Senator Bernie Sanders jumped on Obama’s gun control bandwagon after Clinton accused him of being soft on the NRA, given his D- rating.”He’s in their pocket!” So, Sanders abruptly started using the talking point: “Common-sense Solutions to Make Our Country Safer From Gun Violence.”
- Former Secretary of State Clinton, when she isn’t dodging federal indictments, Hillary fights for “common-sense” gun reforms, too. But the resourceful Mrs. Clinton also seeks common-sense approaches to natural gas policy, climate change, economics, and affordable energy. Boom!
- GOP front-runner Donald Trump doesn’t use the term, apart from a single claim of being a Common Sense Conservative.
- Flailing third-place candidate Marco Rubio, uses common-sense to describe his problematic, contradictory approach to immigration. Rubio recently told Fox News that it was “common sense” to allow young children, old women, and religious leaders into the United States. Say whaaaaat?
- Dark horse candidate and Texas senator Ted Cruz has an even more imaginative approach. Cruz described his State Refugee Security Act as a common sense means of empowering governors to “opt out” of refugee programs. This was followed by “common-sense healthcare” – what does that look like? – and common-sense reforms to Social Security.
- And now, the Sinner of the Day: Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey. Christie supports common-sense bail reforms, and common-sense security measures, and most likely hundreds of other common-sense approaches to common-sense issues.
Christie is the only candidate associated with Common Sense organizations. There’s a Facebook group called People with Common Sense for Chris Christie (17 likes!). Also, there is really an organization called Common Sense Institute of New Jersey, that is focused on budgetary issues and often cite Governor Christie on their website.
I’ll give Christie credit for one thing. The value of “common-sense” is that politicians refuse to define it. However, the governor found a way around this rule that shows voters what a stand-up guy he is. If he can’t say what it is, Chris Christie is gonna tell you what it isn’t. So far, he’s provided one clue: Common sense isn’t racial profiling.
This is why Christie’s intellect is so undervalued. He gives us a concrete fact without tipping his hand. Isn’t that fantastic? What else doesn’t qualify as common sense?
- Common sense isn’t Glade plug-in air fresheners?
- Common sense isn’t hover boards?
- Common sense isn’t 1970s leisure suits?
Addendum: Nate Silver’s 538 blog – now a tool in the Democratic political propaganda machine – recently featured annoying catchphrases (Republican) candidates use. How disappointing he didn’t even take the common-sense measure of protecting his credibility by including “common sense” in the list! If the Democrats say it, it must be okay.